For a couple of years now, I’ve been thinking about starting my own vegetable garden. I’d have pole beans and sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes and big heirloom brandywines, some kale, maybe a few varieties of summer squash…you know, a garden of biblical envy. Of course, all of this would mean having a yard of my own, and that for the time being really is a fantasy.
Up until last week, I was mostly content to buy my vegetables at the farmers’ market and to daydream in class about growing my own. I didn’t exactly see myself coaxing beans to climb up my radiator or turning my desk drawers into seedbeds. But then my friend Kim sent me home with a mixed bag of seeds for sprouting.
So, I’m not exactly growing fabulous vegetables amid my library loans, but I am sprouting my very own greens with little more than a mason jar, some cheesecloth, and a few tablespoons of seeds and lentils. It’s pretty exciting. I just harvested my first batch today, and I’ve got a different mix of green and beluga lentils sitting on my bookshelf now. I’m amazed by how simple it’s been.
The Basics of Sprouting
- Have a sterilised 1-litre mason jar ready, fill it with one or two tablespoons of lentils or some other sproutable seed/bean. Add two or three times their volume in water, cover the jar with a square of cheesecloth, and fasten with an elastic band. Let the seeds sit and soak for 8-12 hours. Drain the water then rinse by filling the jar with more water and swirling the seeds around. Drain into the sink again and leave the jar propped up at a 45-degree angle to drain some more – this allows the seeds to breathe and stay moist without sitting in excess water.
- Rinse two or three times a day, always leaving the jar to drain between rinses.
- In 3-6 days, the sprouts will have grown to a few centimetres or more. They are ready for eating! Just give them a final rinse and remove them from the jar.
- If storing the sprouts in the fridge, let them sit out to dry for 8 hours or so before putting them in a zip-lock bag.
If you’re looking for more detailed information, I found sproutpeople.net to be particularly instructive. You can also order sprouts and more sophisticated equipment from them, but that seems a little extravagant to me. You should be adequately equipped with a mason jar and some cheesecloth. But do check to make sure that the seeds/beans you plan to use do in fact produce edible sprouts. Some varieties, like kidney beans, are toxic.
As for the sprouts that are edible (lentil, mung bean, chickpea, radish, broccoli, alfalfa, etc.), you’ll be happy to know that they’re very nutritious, even more so than the original seeds/beans. The sprouting process makes their nutrients more readily available for digestion.
My only problem now is figuring out how I’m going to eat them…
I have a bit of a confession to make. Sometimes, when I’m in lecture, brow furrowed, lips pursed, tapping away at my laptop, I’m not really puzzling over the ethics of proxy decision-making for incompetent patients or deliberating in my head about the role of belief in our emotions. Sometimes, I’m just thinking: “What’s for lunch/dinner?”
So, as interesting as court appeals and the issues of informed consent really are, I found myself in my bioethics class today fantasizing about the warm, crusty whole-wheat rolls and luscious lentil stew that were waiting for me at home. I couldn’t help it. Blustery winds, inverted umbrellas, and very wet feet have sort of been the norm lately, and I don’t see things getting better. I may as well take what comforts I can, and there’s little better to warm up with than a steaming bowl of stew on days like this.
The stew is something I made on Sunday with Steve, and it’s only gotten better since then. It’s a pretty quick recipe too. We were able to throw it together after dinner without too much fuss, even though neither of us really wanted to do anything except curl up on the couch with the cat.
Admittedly, I didn’t think that the stew looked like much on paper, and I really wasn’t sure about the dill, but I went along with Steve’s assurances, and sure enough, it turned out to be pretty lovely stuff. Its ingredients don’t look like anything too extraordinary, but there’s nothing banal about this stew. If you want a bowl full of warm fall flavours, this is it.
The whole-wheat rolls, by the way, are from the November/December issue of Cook’s Illustrated. It’s a fabulous magazine for its thoroughness and detail to method. I just wish it were more vegetarian friendly. My subscription is halfway through, so if anyone has any recommendations for good vegetarian magazines, I’d be open to suggestions.
Hearty Lentil Stew
Adapted from Gillian McKeith’s You Are What You Eat.
- 2 cups brown lentils
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4 onions, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 cubes of vegetable bullion
- 6 cups water
- 5 large carrots, chopped
- 1 small butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded, and chopped
- 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 1 1/2 lbs mini white potatoes, halved or quartered
- a few handfuls of watercress (about half a pound), chopped
- 4 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
- 2 tsp tamari
- Soak lentils in cold water for about 20 minutes. Rinse and drain.
- Meanwhile, in a large stock pot, warm oil over medium heat and saute onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 2 or 3 more minutes.
- Add the bullion cube, water, lentils, carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, and potatoes to the pot and bring to a boil. Let simmer 20-25 minutes or until lentils and vegetables are soft.
- Stir in watercress, dill, and tamari.
I’m still here and cooking, but I’ve also been juggling a lot of other things like scholarship applications, midterms, and, most recently, a paper on Kant’s transcendental aesthetic. I haven’t had a lot of time for experimentation, but to my relief, I haven’t reverted back to frozen vegetables, pasta, and store-bought pesto yet either. I definitely owe that to Steve. My Sundays are now dedicated to cooking marathons in his kitchen. We’ll pick three or four recipes a few days ahead that will either keep for the week or stay fine frozen, divy up the shopping, and then cook through the afternoon and evening on Sunday. We’ve made some pretty good things so far, like barbeue tempeh sandwich filling, butternut squash soup, cannelloni, and a lentil-sweet potato curry. I don’t think I’ve eaten so well since leaving home.
Last night, we put together a little Thanksgiving feast and had my friend Keran over too. It was my first turkey-free holiday. We mostly cooked from Peter Berley’s second cookbook, Fresh Food Fast. The menu included a pear, pumpkin, and fennel soup, roasted seitan and cippolini onions, a potato and parsnip mash, swiss chard with pine nuts, and an apple crumble tart. I’d say that the night was a success. Holidays are such a great excuse to be a little extravagant and indulgent. I can’t wait for the next one.
For the most part, I expect a lot from myself. Maybe my obsessive revisions come with the philosophical territory – sometimes, it seems that you have to be either a genius or a perfectionist to succeed in this business – but, even so, pretty much everyone knows that the prospect of failure when I’ve done my best terrifies me. Rewind to last fall when I got my first and only paper back from Introduction to Kant, then, and it probably won’t surprise you that I dropped the class, turned tail, and ran when I saw the less than stellar grade. Metaphysics, an incomprehensibly wheezy and Scottish professor, and poor grades were just too much to handle in the midst of a bigger crisis of confidence at the time.
Ever since, of course, any mention of anything even remotely related to the transcendental aesthetic, pure reason, or a priori synthetic judgements has pained me – made me wince, grind my teeth, and wave my arms dismissively – that is, up until last Tuesday. At 1:00 pm that day, I bit the bullet and joined the class for a second time, still dreading raspy, brogue-addled run-on sentences and German obscurity but resigned to the fact that a philosophical education isn’t complete without a good grasp of Immanuel Kant.
It wasn’t that bad. In fact, it was splendid. I hung on to almost every word. Maclachlan’s Scottish mutterings made my head light up with the past year’s worth of formal logic, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind. Things actually made sense! A little time and experience has made all the difference. Some things might just be worth re-visiting (we’ll have to see how the first paper goes…).
Bok choy, though, has definitely proved to be one of those things worth re-visiting. I went on this dirt-cheap six-day tour through central China last December, and I swear that greasy, bland bok choy was the only vegetable served on our tour circuit, lunch and dinner, from Nanking to Shanghai. There was even some at one of the hotel breakfast buffets. Not surprisingly, bok choy didn’t make my grocery list after that. But then, a couple of weeks ago, I saw one of my favourite vendors at the farmers’ market selling cute little bundles of Shanghai bok choy and couldn’t resist.
Stir-Fried Bok Choy
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large clove garlic, sliced
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger root chopped
- 1 fresh red chili, de-seeded and chopped
- 1 small bunch Shanghai bok choy (about a quarter pound), separated into stalks
- 1/4 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp cilantro, chopped
- 1/4 tsp honey
- Heat oil over medium-low heat in a sautee pan.
- Add garlic, ginger, and chili to oil and brown, about five minutes.
- Turn up heat to medium, add bok choy, and stir until wilted, about three to five minutes. Add sesame oil.
- Remove bok choy from heat. Sprinkle with cilantro, drizzle with honey, and toss. Serve over rice.
Makes 2 servings.
I got an email from Tahera Rawji this weekend saying that I could share her incredible recipe for pakoras here. She’s yet another reason that I wish I were on the West coast. I bet a cooking class with her would be amazing. I guess I’ll just have to make do with my borrowed copy of her cookbook. Did I ever mention that I’m really bad with returning loans?
Note: Eno fruit salt isn’t actually a salt at all. As the bottle says, it’s an ‘effervescing powder’. Look for it with the antacids at the pharmacist’s. I’ve been told that Ms. Rawji is adamant about using it in this recipe. It acts sort of as a leavening to make the pakoras light and crisp. Also, deep-frying is a method that unnerves me, but I have a few tips: heat your oil slowly, lower your heat once you’ve hit a good frying temperature and keep adjusting accordingly, you know that you’re good to go with the oil when you drop in some batter and the oil bubbles around it (see above).
from Tahera Rawji and Hamid Suleman’s Simply Indian, reprinted with permission
- 2 1/2 cups gram flour (chickpea flour), sifted
- 1/2 bunch spinach
- 1 tbsp chopped cilantro
- 1 medium potato, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- a few pieces of cauliflower
- 1/4 tsp coriander seeds, split
- 1/4 salt
- 1/4 chili powder
- 1/4 garlic, crushed
- 1/4 tsp Eno fruit salt
- 3-4 cups vegetable oil (for deep-frying)
- In a large bowl, mix together the flour, spinach, cilantro, potato, onion, cauliflower, coriander seeds, salt, chili powder, and garlic.
- Use a tablespoon to add water little by little to form a thick paste.
- Add the fruit salt.
- Heat the oil in a large pot.
- Form the paste into balls and slowly deep-fry them.
I know, I know: it’s been forever since I last wrote. But, in my defense, I did offer pre-emptive apologies some time ago, and a lot has come up in the last little while. I was scrambling to get my paper in, of course. It’s a mediocre at best. I premised things beautifully, but everything sort of unravels as you read on. I ran out of time. The summer sun called. The boy got sick. I had a birthday to celebrate. Excuses, excuses, I know.
I just find it hard to dedicate myself to more than a few things at once, so, with so much to do in the past couple of weeks, there was a lot of cereal and soy milk, half-heartedly steamed vegetables, and uninspired legumes going on. It was a shame, especially with all of the gorgeous specimens at the farmers’ market, but I think Jordan and I more than made up for it last night with our Indian feast.
Picture us from about five until eight chopping, dicing, stirring, sighing, spooning, scouring, laughing in my small, sweltering kitchen. From Tahera Rawji’s Simply Indian, we made chapatis (an unyeasted flatbread, tortilla-like but denser), raita (a refreshing yogurt sauce with cucumber, mint, and cilantro), a complex but mild mung bean curry, and the most incredible pakoras ever. If you’ve never had them, pakoras are a north Indian appetizer made from a batter of chickpea flour, spices, and various finely chopped vegetables shaped into balls and then deep-fried. We were well aware of the fact that the goodness of spinach, cauliflower, and potatoes in the batter couldn’t counteract the litre of canola we were frying in, but the pakoras were irresistible right out of the oil, especially with a little mango chutney. What can I say? Cooking is a lot of hard work. You get hungry.
While we laboured, we couldn’t help but complain about how much patience Indian cooking seems to require. You chop and chop and chop. Then everything simmers for inordinate lengths of time. We weren’t even making anything that elaborate, but, even between the two of us, there was still a lot to do. We shuddered to think of the days before instant biryanis. We couldn’t imagine spending this much time in the kitchen on any kind of regular basis. In short, we were pretty happy about gender equality in the 21st century. No one is going to relegate us to tending to pots if that’s not what we want. In fact, kitchen toils of an Indian-feast scale are strictly a luxury these days.
I don’t have a recipe for you today, but don’t worry, there is food in the works.
2008-09-07: see here for the actual pakora recipe. I just got permission from Ms. Rawji to reprint it today.
Filed under: food, philosophy, recipes | Tags: apricots, grilled cheese, modern philosophy, ontological argument, St. Anselm
Contrary to popular understanding, philosophy is a pretty modest enterprise. The days of grand, architectonic metaphysics are pretty well over. No one today is going to sit down with a pen and try with a little a priori deduction to convince you that God exists. One of the hallmarks of any grounded method or mode of inquiry is its practitioners’ recognition of the method’s limitations. Without it, you end up with embarrassments like St. Anselm’s folly. I think it’s safe to say that some hard lessons have been learned and that philosophers generally don’t entertain those kinds of pretensions anymore.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally get tripped up by overambition. I realised last night that I’ve probably been having trouble with my thesis because I’m not quite ready to settle the ongoing debate in liberal theory in twenty pages. So, today I’ve been scaling back and taking modest steps – in food and in philosophy.
A few nights ago, I made Daniel Pattern’s honey-glazed apricots, but lacking the requisite vanilla ice cream, I’ve been smushing the lovely sweet-tart apricot halves on toast for breakfast. At lunch today, I decided that that gooey goodness would work well with some old cheddar too. Grilled cheese, anyone? Unpretentious and completely doable.
Gooey Grilled Cheese with Smushed Apricots
- two slices multigrain bread
- softened butter for slathering on bread
- thin slices of aged white cheddar
- 2 honey-glazed apricot halves or 1 tbsp of apricot jam (see above)
- a pinch of sucanut or brown sugar (optional)
- 5 or 6 medium basil leaves
- fresh ground pepper
- Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Butter each slice of bread on one side and flip over. Top one slice with half the cheddar. Layer with apricot halves and smush with a butter knife until fruit breaks out of skins. Spread fruit evenly over cheese. Sprinkle with sucanut if using.
- Smash basil leaves with the end of a wooden spoon to release oils. Stack leaves one on top of the other, roll up from stem towards tip, and slice thinly to get curled shreds. Layer basil on apricots. Add pepper to taste, followed by the remaining cheese. Top with second bread slice, buttered side up.
- Grill sandwich on skillet, 3-5 minutes per side, flipping when bread is golden. Slice on a diagonal and serve immediately.